East Bay school district could run out of money they project $151M debt in 2024

The district is one step away from a state takeover, meaning the school board would have no power over finances or decisions.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In the East Bay, the West Contra Costa County School District is facing a staggering budget deficit that could result in them running out of money next year.

Superintendent Kenneth Hurst started this job 10 months ago, and now he is inheriting years of budget deficit.

"I'm deeply concerned about our future," said Superintendent Hurst.

According to the latest WCCUSD report, they are currently $42 million in debt.

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Luz Pena: "Does that keep you up at night"

Kenneth Hurst: "It does keep me up night... but I do know having that additional resource from the county is going to be helpful for us."

According to their latest projection by the 2023 - 2024 school year, WCCUSD could be $151 million in debt.

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Luz Pena: "What's the plan?"

Kenneth Hurst: "The plan initially was to do a reduction in force. What we did initially was to have an equity audit. We found that we had a significant number of teachers that had a small number of students at the high school and middle school level. The plan was to reduce teachers. The board voted not to reduce teachers 3-2... That failed and now we have look at other strategies."

Superintendent Hurst's said there are classrooms with 10 students and one teacher. He recommended to cut 86 full time teacher roles, some which he said are currently vacant. He was asked to look somewhere else to cut, and now is looking into cutting contractors and student programs.

Luz Pena: "Do you feel like in a way your hands are tied?"

Kenneth Hurst: "Yes, I do feel like my hands are tied. Truly the decision is based on the board and if they vote 3-2 "no" or "yes" either way I have to live with that decision."

The Contra Costa County Office of Education is now getting involved to help this school district.

In a letter, the county superintendent announced the appointment of a fiscal advisor who will develop a budget for the fiscal year.

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Hercules City County Member Dan Romero is suggesting for the district to cut elective classes to save money.

"That's it no teams, no extracurricular," said Romero and added, "If this doesn't get better in the next three months I'm almost certain that the State of California is going to step in."

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Despite West Contra Costa County School District having a history of low performance, Superintendent Hurst says he has no choice but to look at cutting programs that will impact students.

"Twenty percent of our students overall in English, language arts are proficient. That means that 80 percent are not. Then looking at mathematics, especially with African American students and Latinx students is even more dismal. Ten percent are proficient. Which means 90 percent are not," said Superintendent Hurst.

Contra Costa County's intervention is helping the WCCUSD prevent a state take over of the school district -- Meaning they are one step from the school board having no power over finances or decisions. This happened to Oakland in 2003.

Out of the five WCCUSD board members, one of them responded to our request for comment.

Via email Trustee Leslie Reckler said she couldn't speak on behalf of the board and added,

"The $151 million you quote does not include all future fiscal apportionments from California State, so that is not a firm deficit figure. Money will be coming. We just do not know how much, and just like many other districts across the state with declining enrollment, we are depending on Sacramento to hear our plea for a fair and equitable funding formula that lets districts navigate these enrollment declines with grace."

"However, I am not waiting for Sacramento to solve our fiscal issues. In my short time on the board, I have:
  • Established a 7-11 committee to review potential uses of unused properties and turn them into long term revenue generators for the district.
  • Rewrote all of our charter school policies ensuring we have some of the toughest in the state. This will make it harder for new charters to come here and take our students, and has raised the bar for any renewals.
  • Approved a Director of Student Recruitment and Retention position to work on student attendance and enrollment issues, which will in turn, increase the amount of money that comes to this district.

  • Hired the best k-12 lobbyist in Sacramento to ensure the WCCUSD voice is heard, and we get what we deserve for our students, teachers and families.
  • On the revenue reduction side, I will not mince words. There are likely to be reductions that will be very unpalatable. I'll do my best to encourage as transparent and participatory a process as possible.
  • I also look forward to regrouping with my board colleagues around tenets of the above to find common ground, and I welcome the Contra Costa County Office of Education's insights.
  • I stood painfully in the minority and voted to authorize RIF's to ensure our district's continued fiscal independence. No one wants to issue RIFs. No one. But my single most important job is fiduciary - to ensure the school district is fiscally stable, financially secure and is a Going Concern. This is what I was elected to do."
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